Political Science


America, China, Hong Kong, Russia, Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Philippines, Venezuela, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, and Brazil, though the latter may be in flux.  Tunisia and Iran are problematic, but arguably hard to call.  Saudi may be headed toward collapse, but I don’t think you can say they are less free just yet.  Ethiopia is losing more political freedom, though still making very real economic progress.


Mexico and Colombia, if only by consolidating previous gains, and still there is a chance of a turnaround in Argentina at some point.  Latvia?  Where else?  You could make a (modest) case for India and some of the smaller African countries.


Japan, South Korea, Canada, and much of Western Europe though many of these cases appear fragile to me.

Overall this is not a thrilling ledger.  I haven’t listed most of the smaller countries, but in the longer run they often follow the lead of their larger neighbors.

File under Not Good.

…when scholars cluster on the left end of the spectrum, they marginalize themselves. We desperately need academics like sociologists and anthropologists influencing American public policy on issues like poverty, yet when they are in an outer-left orbit, their wisdom often goes untapped.

In contrast, economists remain influential. I wonder if that isn’t partly because there is a critical mass of Republican economists who battle the Democratic economists and thus tether the discipline to the American mainstream.

Here is more.

Here is an excerpt from a longer post, which also includes a summary:

Here are some of the most interesting ideas in the book:

1. Mind speeds: I had not previously spent much time thinking about how our brain’s hardware affects the speed at which we think. As it happens, our minds are spectacularly slow compared to what’s feasible with other materials! Better hardware, as well inequalities of hardware across individuals, will likely drive many parts of em society.

2. Death in the time of copies: An individual’s relationship to death is much different when you can make and store copies of yourself. Given how much of our current lives and societies are wrapped in who dies / how they die / when we die – a world where death is less central has major implications for identity, values, and relationships.

3. Security concerns are paramount: Theft (making copies of you without your permission) thus becomes almost more of an issue than death. As such, laws and cultural taboos will shift with security becoming more central to em value systems.

4. Less democratic: In a short period of a time, a well run non-democratic regime can outperform your average democracy. However, in the modern human world, these regimes often implode on themselves before they can dominate the rest of the world. But in the em world, things will move so fast (economic doubling rates are incredibly fast, every month or two!), that the rewards to short bursts of effective non-democratic regimes may be very high.

5. Religion: I tend not to think of robots as religious, but Robin makes the case that the utility of religion (nicer hard-working people) and the values of the em world (more farmer like) should lead to increased religiosity.

6. Increased utility: The sheer number of ems, coupled with their high mind speeds – as well as the likelihood that there lives will be ok in terms of meaning and happiness – suggests that the transition to an em world will be a positive utility move.

You can order the book here.  Here is my earlier review.

Plug those numbers into the formula, and the prediction is that the Democratic share of the two-party presidential vote in 2016 will be 44.99%.

That is from Timothy Taylor, here is an earlier piece by Jeff Sommer.

Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria.  I could list more such events.

Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up?  What the hell is going on?

I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis.  I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes).  A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs.  They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.

To borrow a phrasing from Peter Thiel, perhaps men did better in the age of “technological progress without globalization” rather than “globalization without technological progress,” as has been the case as of late.

Here’s a line from Martin Wolf:

Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton note, in addition, a sharp relative deterioration in mortality and morbidity among middle-aged white American men, due to suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse.

(Addendum: note this correction.)

For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners.

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority.  Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here?  And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem.  It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true.  But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two.  It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible.  Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done.  But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick.  Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus.  But how to do that?  That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it.  It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes.  It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure.  And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway?  Let’s hope we don’t find out.

That is the new book by David Dagan and Steven Teles, here is the publisher’s description:

  • Argues, counter to the conventional wisdom, that the conservative embrace of criminal justice reform is not primarily about money
  • Provides the most comprehensive account both of the rise of the conservative reform movement and of the criminal justice reforms that have swept the states in the last 10 years
  • Features interviews with of the major players in the conservative criminal justice reform movement
  • Provides a theory for how to create breakthroughs in other policy areas amid political polarization

I am looking forward to my copy, here is the Amazon link.

In the Empire of Amerigo there is heated debate about the priorities of the polity.

The Egalitarians push for much higher military spending, on the grounds that many poor people around the world require Empire protection from aggressors or at the very least from severe external pressure.  The Egalitarians have a subcult, called The Samanthas, who favor direct military intervention in very destructive civil wars.  They are willing to cut domestic spending on social services to achieve this end, even though their founder did not draw this exact same conclusion.

The opposing party The Three-Percenters favors much higher social spending to the nation’s less fortunate citizens, who are for the most part within the global top three percent.  The Three-Percenters are an openly elitist party, and they emphasize how place of birth determines an individual’s moral worth, Amerigo coming first of course with no prize for second place.

The Egalitarians have been pushing hard for affirmative action.  It turns out that no one on the country’s Supreme Council has a military background, and they believe this should be rectified by an explicit system of quota.  Furthermore only a few members of the legislature ever have killed another human being in service of their country.  So the military point of view, as would be required to implement true egalitarian social justice, is badly underrepresented in the upper tiers of government and society.

After the great wage equalization of 2104, it became the common view that willingness to die and more importantly the willingness to kill for one’s country — or not — was the most fundamental remaining difference among citizens of Amerigo.  The self-proclaimed Proud Killer Faction earns some of the lowest wages in the country, yet they continue to push for greater recognition at the federal level, realizing it is not enough to control several state governments.

So far the Three-Percenters have the more popular view, because after all humans are naturally elitist and clubbish, and so their coalition rule has remained unchallenged for several terms of government.  Yet virtually all philosophers and academics back The Egalitarians, with some radicals even endorsing the Proud Killer Faction.

Addendum: There is another, now-vanquished faction of The Egalitarians, called The Medicoors.  They argue the strange and indeed untenable view that those on the verge of death have almost infinitely less than anyone else, even the very poor, and so a true egalitarianism means everything should be redistributed their way to prolong their lives, even if only for a short period of time.  They ruled the government for almost a century.  At first they were mocked for the doctrine of being “Forward Lookers,” and then finally they were defeated by the success of their own efforts.  Medical technology raised life expectancy to three hundred years of age, thereby inducing voters to think of themselves as nearly eternal, at least for the time being.  Some seers have predicted that eventually the Medicoors will make a major political comeback…

Which search terms correlate with support for which politicians?  Why not at least ask this question?

John Kasich. Places that like Kasich are richer in some fairly policy-wonkish search terms: “net cost,” “renewable portfolio standard,” the economist Joseph Stiglitz, Financial Times writer Martin Wolf, and Vox writer Dylan Matthews. These terms have a ring of plausibility. They might be good fodder for small talk…if you are talking with a Kasich supporter!

But then there are terms that I don’t entirely understand: Route 73 and Haven Pizza. Maybe someone can explain those to me. It is also true that with billions of search terms to choose from, occasionally a correlation will arise by chance. These might be false positives.

Ted Cruz. Many Cruz-related search terms are related to domestic life of a certain kind: family photos, felt Christmas stockings, scentsy plug ins, balloon animals, Baby Trend car seats, and DIY cribs. Easy enchiladas are particularly Cruz-y. Mmmm, enchiladas. And udder covers…I wasn’t expecting that one. Maybe the Cruz campaign could start distributing Cruz-themed udder covers!

Donald Trump. Note that the correlations are weaker. That could be because Trump support is broad-based in the Republican Party. Or it could be that the connection between the voter and the Google-searcher is indirect (i.e. they are different individuals who live near one another).

That is from Sam Wang, via the keen-eyed Jordan Schneider.  And what about the Democrats?

Near Clinton supporters it’s cheap bedroom furniture, Nicki Minaj fans, and pink hoverboard shoppers. And “career in” – Google auto-complete as a job counselor!

And the strongest correlate with Bernie Sanders support?: “candied nuts,” next in line is “best oatmeal,” ladies and gentlemen that is proof this is not just data mining and false correlations.  The list is dominated by recipe terms, and “corn syrup substitute” is number four!  Oh where oh where is Martin Wolf?

That is the title of his posthumous memoir, highly recommended.  It is one of the best books on the charm of studying Southeast Asia, and also a very good look at how American academia rose from mediocre to excellent in the postwar era.  It is short and can be consumed in a single gulp.

Here is Andrew Batson on the book.  Here is Anderson on Wikipedia; he was best known as a theorist of nationalism but he also did important work on Indonesia and Thailand.

Ratio of most-cited publication to second-most-cited publication for authors among the top-10 most cited books in the social sciences:


Michael Tomasello reviews theories of learning–some suggest that liberalism may be unnatural:

…a consistent finding in comparative studies is that human children are much more concerned than are other great apes to copy the exact actions of others, including arbitrary gestures, conventions and rituals (Tennie et al. 2009). Indeed, this tendency is so strong…when children do not see a clear goal to an actor’s action, they imitate even more precisely than if they do see a goal…

Moreover, children quickly learn to enforce arbitrary conventions and rituals:

…young children are so concerned with conformity that they will even enforce it on others, even when they themselves are not affected and the action involved is merely an arbitrary convention. For example, if children learn that on this table we play the game this way and on that table we play it another way, if a puppet then plays the game the wrong way on the wrong table, they intervene and stop him (Rakoczy, Hamann, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2010; Rakoczy, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2008)….Interestingly, when actors violate conventional norms, 3-year-olds admonish them more often if they are in-group rather than out-group members, presumably because in-group members should know better and be more committed to how “we” do it (Schmidt, Rakoczy, & Tomasello, 2011).

The enforcement of conformity is so important for young children that 5-year-olds have more positive feelings toward a norm enforcer (even though he is acting aggressively) than they do toward someone who simply lets a norm violation go (even though he is behaving in a neutral manner; Vaish, Herrmann, Markmann, & Tomasello, 2016).

In the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) an individual could not survive outside the group of their birth and so conformity was a matter of life and death. Conform or be cast out. Conformity to arbitrary convention was not in fact arbitrary but signalled affiliation. Conformity banded groups together.

Today, however, conformity is often counter-productive. Trying to enforce the arbitrary conventions of one’s in-group impedes social cooperation on the scale that makes modernity possible. Conformity also slows the development of new ideas and new ways of doing things–the essence of growth and progress. Even though conformity is now counter-productive the desire to conform and to enforce conformity is buried deep–the atavism of social justice.

Individualism and liberalism are foundational ideas for modernity but these adult ideas battle the desire to conform in our childish hearts.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen on twitter.

James E. Campbell has written an excellent book on this contested and…polarizing…topic.  Here is just one of many good bits:

As they [some commentators] see it, party polarization has been asymmetrical.  The Republican Party allegedly has been captured by right-wing zealots while the Democratic Party has remained a reasonable center-left party.  The claim of asymmetrical party polarization is half-true and completely understandable.  First, there should be no mystery to asymmetry.  If the parties are very competitive, as they are, and the public is skewed to the conservative end of the ideological scale, the parties should be similarly skewed.  In a center-right nation, the right-wing party should be further to the right than the left-wing party is to the left.  If the two parties were equally ideological, the Democrats would be in a permanent minority.  That said, the increased polarization of the parties cannot be entirely attributed to the Republican Party becoming more conservative.  Before the Republicans began moving to the right, Democrats had moved further to the left.  Party polarization followed the staggered nature of the realignment.  In the 1970s, congressional Democrats moved significantly to the left, while there was little change in congressional Republicans.  The Republican shift to the right came later and was augmented by the growth of conservatism in the public.  The polarization of the parties was a two-step dance — maybe three big steps: One big step to the left and two smaller steps to the right.

There is also this:

A five- or ten-percentage-point shift in ideological preferences may seem like “small potatoes,” but a nation that is 40% moderate and 60% ideological (liberal or conservative) operates quite different politically from one that is a 50-50 split.

By the way, it is sometimes noted, or noticed, that left-leaning thinkers have become crazier lately.  I think overall that is true.  It may be a sign that America is switching from a center-right to a center-left nation, given Campbell’s analysis above.

Recommended, due out in June from Princeton University Press.  And here is Timothy Taylor on polarization.

In 2015, total nominal credit expansion was nearly 4 times greater than total nominal GDP expansion.

That is from Christopher Balding, more of interest at the link.

It’s not clear the EU is imploding, but let’s just say it were, or that it will.  That still makes “remain” better than “leave.”  As the implosion proceeds, the United Kingdom would end up with a rather gracious out, and one which does not drive Scotland away, once other nations would start leaving or radically paring back the terms of their participation.  Along the way, “ever closer union” would not be a threat to sovereignty.  Conversely, if the country votes for “leave” in June, it will be perceived as yet another domino in the cascade of anti-globalist nationalism and would bring a rather sudden shock to London as a financial center and relations across the Irelands.

Look at it this way: there is no general case for being the first rat to leave a sinking ship, if that ship has stores of food.  And the United Kingdom, with its own currency and set of distinct historical traditions, can leave whenever it wants and resort to its perpetual life raft.

Option value!  It’s not enough that leaving be better than staying.  Since “wait and see” is an option, leaving has to be much better than staying, given the mathematics of the expected value of irreversible decisions.  I just don’t see that case has been made.

Here is my earlier post on Brexit.

In The Rise and Decline of Nations Mancur Olson argued that collusive arrangements accumulate slowly, reducing efficiency and economic growth. It’s difficult to defeat collusions, however, because the organized-winners fight harder than the unorganized-losers. But there is a way. Ironically, collusions get weaker in groups.

The base-closing principle tells us that the way to defeat collusions is to bundle them and force their existence on a single up or down vote. That’s one reason why general agreements on tariffs and trade, GATT agreements, are important. Trade agreements increase efficiency not simply because of comparative advantage, increasing returns to scale, and increased diversity but because general agreements are necessary to defeat the rent seekers.

Unfortunately, as Gary Hufbauer and Euijin Jung point out, we haven’t had a successful GATT since 1986 and the time between GATT rounds has been getting longer and longer. Moreover, just as Olson would have expected, collusions–what Hufbauer and Jung call “micro-protections”–have grown.

In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008–09, micro-protectionism has run rampant, often skirting the letter of WTO rules. This phenomenon is driven by political promises to create more jobs and to protect domestic firms and industries, notably evident in Buy America statutes and copy-cat local content legislation across the globe. As an illustration, table 2 reports that the imposition of 117 local content requirement measures identified since 2008 is estimated to affect $928 billion of global trade in goods and services in 2010, perhaps reducing global exports by $93 billion.

Local content requirements are just one form of trade restrictive measures introduced since the Great Recession…Macroeconomists are wrong to dismiss the quantitative importance of these poison pills, perhaps individually small but collectively deadly. The fact that highly visible tariff barriers have not been erected on a large scale does nothing to diminish the cumulative impact of thousands of opaque measures designed to keep out imports.

Micro-protections are especially important where trade most needs to increase, in services. There is vast scope for the expansion of world trade but we need a general agreement on trade, especially one focused on breaking down local markets for services.

The rent-seekers never sleep so simple measures of trade protectionism understate the prevalence of micro-protections but simple measures of the gains from trade understate the benefits of defeating strangling collusions.

In my view, the focus of left-wing attention on trade restrictions is due not to the importance of international trade flows in altering income distribution, but rather springs from different motives: from attempts to hook up some of the energy that for two centuries now has been abundantly focused on nation and cross-connect it to class. As Ernst Gellner wrote, leftists have been faced with what they regard as a historical anomaly in the rise of nationalism, and have reacted by embracing:

[Gellner]: The Wrong Address Theory…. Just as extreme Shi’ite Muslims hold that Archangel Gabriel made a mistake, delivering the Message to Mohamed when it was intended for Ali, so Marxists basically like to think that the spirit of history of human consciousness made terrible boob. The awakening message was intended for classes, but by some terrible postal error was delivered to nations. It is now necessary for revolutionary activists to persuade the wrongful recipient to hand over the message, and the zeal it engenders, to the rightful and intended recipient. The unwillingness of both the rightful and the usurping recipient to fall in with this requirement causes the activist great irritation…

That is from Brad DeLong.